Breakers Review by Tony Towle


Paul Violi's Breakers presents a stunning array of longer works, each of which is based in a different structure. Leading off is the delightful "Little Testament," written on the author's 40th birthday for himself - very much in the spirit of Villon but without a trace of parody (no mean feat with Villon). There is outright parody, however, of a deeply satisfying sort, in "Triptych," a hilarious send-up of a day of TV listings (11:00 (2)) Moon out of focus). In a completely different vein, "Harmatan", a 49-page work reprinted here in full, is a compellingly readable record of the author's experiences in Nigeria in 1967. The observations are as masterfully concise as they are fascinating, so that by the end (read it in one sitting) one is left with the feeling of having read a powerful novel of much greater length.

"Harmatan" is the earliest piece in the book and, although it has a prose (but no prosaic) reality rather than the metaphoric variety, there is already evidence of what Violi has since developed without pause: the ease of slipping between internal perception and external observation so easily that they become one. He has added an effortless ability to drop in, at unexpected moments, references to literature, mythology, and historical events. This brilliant insouciance, while remaining unquestionably the guiding author of the work, is reminiscent of the Byron of "Don Juan."

Breakers continues on with one tour-de-force after another, each with an impressive sureness of touch. "King Nasty" is a monologue by a crass producer dictating to silent flunkies a stream of script variations for (grisly) scenes for a movie about the French Revolution (this is a lot funnier than it sounds). "Wet Bread and Roasted Pearl's," the internal monologue of the poet musing on a train going home, has a somewhat veiled crossword-puzzle-clue motif that is embedded in the poem like a crossword-puzzle clue, until gradually, and not until the end, the work clarifies itself as a love poem, moving and sensual.

"The Curious Builder" starts out with a mock-solemn dream analysis and ends, after a rollercoaster of unreal experiences spiced with real wit, with the wonderful conceit of receiving a series of broken-off form letters that begin with such salutations as :Dear Wordsmith, Dear Parent, Dear Patron, Dear Chump, et al. - and there is the cool sublimity of "Sputter and Blaze." The book ends with excerpts from "The Hazards of Imagery," a takeoff on the famous 16th century Anonimo, a catalogue of descriptions (by an anonymous narrator) of contemporary artworks from noble homes in Renaissance Italy. The dryness of the descriptions in the original can be surmised by Violi's modern equivalents: The Toyota in the driveway is very old and is said to have come from Japan. ("At the Cottage of Messer Violi") or: "At the Tomb of Improperly Trained Bombardiers": This is the saddest work I have ever seen.

Violi's comedic effects are extensive and diverse, but mixed with an awareness of the pathos of the human condition. His ultimate seriousness never atrophies into solemnity. No poet writing today has a greater breadth of sensibility than Violi, or expresses it in a greater range of styles, or uses more of the devices that poetry has to offer. His poems inspire the feelings of excitement about life that is, still, the ultimate function of art.